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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter VII - Knox on the Continent

KNOX left Dieppe about the beginning of August, and journeyed to Geneva: "The most perfect School of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the Apostles." Calvin must have been the attraction, for there were no English exiles there. Knox had arrived independently at the same conclusions as Calvin regarding the Protestant religion. Both derived their views from the one source, the Bible. Between the two men there was an intellectual and religious sympathy. They at once became friends, and the friendship was never broken.

The persecutions in England under Bloody Mary drove many exiles to the Continent. About eight hundred at this time sought refuge in France, Germany, and Switzerland, and a considerable colony under the leadership of Whittingham settled in Frankfort-on-the-Main. The municipal rulers of that Imperial city allowed them the use of the French Church on alternate Sundays. One condition was laid down, that they would conform to the creed of that Church. That creed was Calvinistic, and the English congregation discarded, as a consequence, the Second Prayer Book of Edward vi. Shortly afterwards, in adopting one for their own use, they modified the English Service Book, omitting the litany, kneeling at communion and responses. They also substituted a new Confession for the one in the English book, and concluded the service after the Swiss and Scottish fashion with "a psalm in metre in a plain tune."

It is perfectly clear from their ready acceptance of the French creed, and afterwards by the very drastic changes which they made on the English Prayer Book, that they belonged to that party in the Church of England who a year or two before were making strong efforts to bring the Reformation into line with the teaching of Scripture and the practice of the Early Church. Hooper was one of the leaders of this party, and Knox was another. They were in a small minority, but all the same they managed to make very important changes in the doctrine and ritual of the Church, and they started that movement which afterwards became so well known as Puritanism. Whittingham and his congregation endeavoured to induce their fellow-countrymen who were at Zurich, Strasburg, and Wesel to come to Frankfort, but after some correspondence it was seen that the English exiles in these towns were strongly opposed to the views of the Frankfort congregation, and so they refused the invitation.

Shortly after this, on the 24th of September, a letter with twenty-one signatures was sent to Knox at Geneva, inviting him to become one of the ministers of the English Church at Frankfort. The Scottish preacher was very much disinclined to accept the offer. His life for the past ten years had been a troublous, stormy, and strenuous one, and it is not at all unlikely that he welcomed the peace and repose of Geneva and the intellectual companionship which he found there. He was also anxious to repair the defects of his scholarship, and to bring himself abreast of the attainments of the learned men with whom he was now associating. But his chief reason was probably the same as that which compelled him to decline preferment in the Church of England, "the knowledge of troubles to come." He would be perfectly well aware of the divided opinions that existed even in the Frankfort congregation, for although the majority adopted the modified Prayer Book there was a minority that objected to it. At length he consented, and he himself declares that it was "at the command of Mr. Calvin, that notable servant of God, albeit unwillingly he obeyed the vocation," and so in the second week of November he arrived in Frankfort.

We now enter on one of the most important periods in. the life of Knox. It is one that may not appeal to the general mass of people, but, looking at it from its effects on the subsequent history of the religious life and thought of England, it is full of significance. Knox's religious opinions, which must have been formed before he became a Protestant in name, were boldly advocated by him from the very first. In St. Andrews, in the French galleys, and in England, he remained true to his early convictions, and was able to persuade others to adopt them. The English Reformation he regarded as a "mingle-mangle." He did his best to free it of "popish dregs," and to impart to it Scriptural purity and simplicity, and now at Frankfort he felt called upon to stand fast to his old opinions. The Service Book which the English congregation in that city had adopted would seem to have been only temporary in its character, and one of the first tasks which awaited him was to decide on a new Order. Two were suggested, that of Geneva and the Service Book of Edward vi. Knox felt that in the circumstances it would not be prudent, or even possible, to introduce either, and being convinced that his presence would not be conducive to the peace of the church he proposed to leave. To this, however, "they would in no wise consent." As a way out of the difficulty they proposed to consult the man of Geneva, and it was agreed that Whittingham and Knox should send to Calvin a "platt," or description of the English Service Book, and ask him for his opinion.

It cannot be said that the account which was given by these two men of the Second Prayer Book of Edward vi. was altogether unbiassed. Certain expressions occur which show that they did not regard it as perfect by any means. This, of course, was to be expected. Calvin took fully a month in forming his opinion, and that opinion, as might be anticipated, was far from favourable. He could not understand what they meant by "delighting so greatly in the leavings of popish dregs," and he added that there were "tolerable foolish things" in the book. Knox again desired to leave, and in any case he counselled moderation. At last a compromise was arrived at, and a temporary arrangement made for the conduct of public worship and the dispensing of the Sacraments.

But at the very moment when peace at last prevailed fresh troubles broke out. On the 13th of March 1555 a new band of English exiles led by Richard Cox arrived in Frankfort. Cox had been a man of considerable importance in England during the reign of King Edward. He never attained to the first position among the Reformers, but he lacked neither ability nor courage. He and his companions were in full sympathy with the English Prayer Book, and felt that there was almost something dishonourable in their fellow-countrymen renouncing a work for which many were now in exile, and for adherence to which Cranmer, Ridley, and others were in prison, and would soon be put to death. Cox during the last reign had been Chancellor of Oxford University, and tutor and almoner to the King. Apart from his own undoubted strength of character, the offices which he had thus held gave him considerable weight. Knox and his friends welcomed them to their congregation, but on the very first Sunday on which they attended church they raised the responses, and on the following Sunday one of them mounted the pulpit, read the litany, and gave the responses, Cox at the same time declaring they "would do as they had done in England, and their church should have an English face."

This, on the lowest ground, was a breach of Christian courtesy and good manners. They had been welcomed on the understanding that they would conform to the accepted service. They must have known of the troubles that had already caused much dispeace in the congregation, and it was a gross breach of privilege thus rudely and without warning to introduce fresh disturbance. Knox happened to be the preacher appointed for the afternoon, and, roused by the arrogance of Cox and his confreres, he "set his face like a flint " to resist their bold attempt, and preached such a sermon as they had very probably never listened to before.

"I told them," says Knox, in giving an account of this discourse, "that it became not the proudest of them all to enterprise the breach of any order within that church gathered in the name of Christ." "Among many sins," he continued, "that moved God to plague England, that slackness to reform religion when time and place was granted was one, and therefore that it did become us to be circumspect how we did lay now our foundations, and how we went forward, and because that some men nothing ashamed to say and affirm openly that there had been no impediment nor stop in England, but that religion might go forth and grow to the purity, and that it was already brought to perfection. I reproved this opinion as feigned and untrue by the lack of discipline which is not in the book, neither could in England be obtained, and by the trouble that Mr. Hooper for the rochet and such trifles in the book allowed, as also by that which appeared in all men's eyes, that one man was permitted to have power of five benefices to the slander of the Gospel and defraudation of Christ's flock of their lively food and sustenance."

But although Knox spoke thus strongly, he, against the advice of many, recommended that Cox and his party should be admitted into the full membership of the Church. This concession was ill repaid, for those who were thus favoured immediately began to devise ways and means for having their own aims realised, and the best way to accomplish this, they well knew, was at all hazards to get rid of Knox. After some vain attempts at reconciliation the Coxian party began to show their hand. They threatened Knox. Their threats he treated with contempt. But they had one weapon in their hand which they now determined to use. That "outrageous pamphlet" of his, The Admonition to the Professors of God's Truth, which had "added much oil to the flame of persecution in England," was now produced, and they formally accused him to the Frankfort Senate of "Nine articles of high treason against the Emperor, his son Philip, and the Queen of England."

The Senate had a good opinion of Knox, and they were not at all inclined to believe the charges without certain proof. The Emperor was at that moment at Augsburg, and afraid lest the matter should come to his ears they asked the offensive passage to be translated into Latin and submitted to them. Then, afraid lest they might be accused of harbouring traitors, they, through Whittingham and Williams, counselled Knox to leave the city as the most prudent course for him and them. On the night before his departure he preached to a company of friends "a most comforting sermon " in his lodgings, and on the following day they accompanied him three or four miles out of the city, wishing him God-speed "with great heaviness of heart and plenty of tears."

Knox went direct to Geneva, where Calvin was now supreme. In his opinion, and that of his friends, this little town of twelve thousand inhabitants, on the shores of Lake Leman, was the ideal of a Christian community. It is doubtful, however, if the strict rule of Calvin was conducive to a healthy civic life. It aimed at suppressing vice rather than reforming the morals of the community. It is not therefore surprising to learn that a tumult broke out on the 16th of May 1555, the object of the rebels being to put to death the foreigners in the city, the number of whom was very considerable. These Outlanders came to Geneva because, theologically, they were of the same mind as Calvin; and enjoying the franchise they supported him in his policy. Should they be got out of the way those who groaned under the tyranny of the Reformer would again obtain liberty. The tumult was put down, and the rebels were brought to trial; some were punished, others were banished; and the power of Calvin was again supreme.

The English colony that had now gathered in Geneva were granted a place of worship, and Knox was appointed their minister. He would seem, however, to have at this time stayed only a few weeks in Geneva, for by the month of August he had left for Scotland. It was now eight years since he had been in his native country, and we can well imagine his feelings on revisiting it, for many changes, both of a political and religious kind, had taken place since the day on which he was summarily shipped in a French galley and chained as a slave to the oar.

The two parties which had been at strife prior to Knox's departure in 1547 were still contending. France on the one hand and England on the other were fighting for the favour of Scotland; and Scottish statesmen were divided in their sympathies, some courting the English alliance and others the French. Indeed, Scotland had become the battlefield of these two foreign countries. Protector Somerset invaded the country in 1547 with eighteen thousand men, laying waste the land and destroying the Religious Houses, the "fair Abbey" of Melrose being of the number. The Battle of Pinkie, which long continued to be a sad memory in the minds and hearts of Scotsmen, was fought on the 10th of September. The Regent Arran solicited the aid of France, and in June of 1548 six thousand Frenchmen landed in Scotland. The object of both countries was to win the hand of the young Queen of Scots; in the one case for King Edward, and in the other for the Dauphin. France was successful. Mary was taken to that country, and in due time married to the heir to the French throne.

It was the policy of the Queen Mother, Mary of Lorraine, to maintain the alliance with France, and to defend the Roman Catholic Church against the attacks of the Protestant party  and it was the policy of her brothers, the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, to make Scotland an appanage of France. This scheme was frustrated, and not the least important factor in defeating it was the disorderly and brutal conduct of the French troops quartered in Scotland. Their behaviour was so inhuman and disgraceful that the Scotch revolted, and turned upon them with a bitter hatred. Many, accordingly, who had previously been friendly to France, now favoured a political alliance with England, and this feeling, afterwards strengthened by the religious revival in favour of Protestantism, destroyed for ever the hopes of France, and carried through the revolution of 1560.

It was the ambition of the Queen Mother, in order to carry out with greater success her policy of an alliance with France, to become Regent, and the Earl of Arran, who was well meaning but weak, was bribed by the offer of the Dukedom of Chatelherault in France to resign in favour of Mary of Guise. In 1554 her ambition was realised, and she thought that she was now free to proceed with that fusing of France and Scotland into one which had been her aim ever since she became the wife of James v. Beaton's successor in the primacy was Hamilton, half-brother of the Regent. It was no part of his plans to support the Queen Mother in her policy. His aim, naturally, was to assist his brother in holding his own against Mary. He accordingly favoured the English alliance. Those, as a consequence, who were of the Reformed ways were not subjected, notwithstanding the martyrdom of Adam Wallace, to much persecution, and Mary in carrying out her policy could not afford to quarrel with the Protestant party either. It was her aim, as far as possible, to conciliate them, so that they might, when her scheme was ripe, give her their support. Thus from no love of the Protestant Faith, but owing to the stress of the political situation, both Hamilton and Mary, representing the ecclesiastical and civil powers, were compelled to leave the Protestants alone.

The new religion was making very considerable progress in the country, and chiefly among the lower classes. It was only at a later day, when they saw hopes of plunder, that the nobility joined with any degree of eagerness in the Reformation. They had by that time seen the vast material benefits that had accrued to the English aristocracy by the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church, and being the poorest nobility, and also the proudest in the world, they saw hopes of plunder and of wealth in the religious movement that was affecting the country.

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were at last becoming alive to their danger. This can be seen by the various Provincial Councils that were held. One that met in Edinburgh shortly after Beaton's death petitioned the Regent to put down heresy, for, unless it was stamped out, it would undermine and destroy the Church. Another Provincial Council that was held in 1549 passed sixty-two statutes, which were prefaced by a remarkable confession, that "the root and cause of the troubles and heresies which afflicted the Church were the corruption, the profane lewdness, the gross ignorance of Churchmen of almost all ranks. The clergy therefore were enjoined to put away their concubines under pain of deprivation of their benefices, to dismiss from their houses the children born to them in concubinage, not to promote such children to benefices, nor to enrich the daughters with doweries, the sons with baronies, from the patrimony of the Church. Prelates were admonished not to keep in their households manifest drunkards, gamblers, brawlers, night-walkers, buffoons, blasphemers, profane swearers."

We cannot help admiring the frankness and good intentions of this Provincial Council. They were perfectly honest in their desire to reform the Church from within, but the corruptions from which it was suffering, and which they themselves enumerate, were evidently beyond remedy; and we are not surprised to learn that the instructions and recommendations drawn up for the reform of the clergy, and their guidance in the discharge of their duties, were entirely disregarded. The Church was too late in its attempt at reform, the only cure was to come from without; the axe was already laid at the root of the ecclesiastical tree whose overthrow and destruction were only a matter of time.

The most notable and laudable attempt on the part of the Church to purify its life, and to inspire its teachers with a sense of duty, was the famous Catechism of Archbishop Hamilton. The real author is supposed to have been John Wynram. It was written in the Scottish dialect, and gives a lucid and simple epitome of the chief doctrines of the Catholic Church. It incidentally throws light on the glaring defects of the clergy. It would seem that parish priests were not able to read without stumbling, and we are not surprised to learn that their schoolboy efforts to decipher the Catechism were met by the jeers of their congregations. These same congregations were beginning to display that intelligence which has since characterised the Scottish people. The religious revival was awakening them, and they were beginning to read, and to think on the questions that the Protestant preachers had raised. Books we are told were in circulation, and by them the Reformed views were disseminated over the land. Ballads, too, satirising and ridiculing the Romish Church and the clergy, were being printed. Whenever an institution can be laughed at, its fate is sealed. The Roman Catholic Church had reached this stage, and the contempt of the people was prophetic of its approaching death.

Another factor in spreading the Reformation in Scotland during this period was the persecution by Bloody Mary of English Protestants. Many had to choose between banishment and the fires of Smithfield. Hundreds fled to the Continent, and a considerable number came across the border and sought refuge in Scotland. The two most notable men among these were William Harlaw and John Willock. Both were noted preachers, and one of them was a distinguished scholar. They laboured earnestly and successfully, and by means of their preaching the cause of Protestantism was greatly strengthened in the land. "And last came John Knox in the end of harvest."

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